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Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the number of deaths through hypothermia in this country is higher than in Sweden? Does he agree that that cannot be climatically explained? Can he tell the House what plans the Government have to reduce this figure?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I cannot comment on the comparison between the two countries. Noble Lords will understand that the Government have introduced a whole series of measures aimed at enabling pensioners to pay bills and there are very strict regulations that govern the disconnection of meters and the turning off of heating arrangements.
Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, can my noble friend tell the House whether pensioners in London and elsewhere would be well advised to accept the offer of British Gas to become the sole provider of energy to their homesteads?
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, is the Minister aware that not very long ago I received a letter telling me that the Government had decided to give me £20 to help with my winter fuel bills and that that was more than any government had ever made available to pensioners? Does the noble Lord agree that it would have been less misleading to the many millions who doubtless received that letter had it been explained that the kind donor was the taxpayer and not the Government?
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, I am rather disappointed by the reply of the Minister. He has utterly failed to answer the Question. Cannot the Government discuss with the respective regulators what action can be taken to remove these charges, for such a result will certainly be beneficial to the health and well-being of our elderly people?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that I have already covered that point. On the basis of our regulatory system there must be a charging system for these payments. Moves have been made to make certain that the payments are as fair as possible. In the light of that action, I believe that the point has been covered.
The Chairman of Committees (Lord Boston of Faversham): My Lords, pig meat served in the House of Lords restaurants is of British origin, except the bacon in the staff restaurant, which is Dutch, and the wild boar, which comes from Hungary and at times from one or two other places. This is not a laughing matter. We do not make much of these matters in your Lordships' House, but it so happens that my arms bear the wild boar.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, while I thank the noble Lord for his relatively satisfactory Answer, is he aware that the fact that British pork is served in the restaurants is not well known, hence this Question? Will the noble Lord consider ways of publicising it further, such as descriptions on menus, so that Ministers from laggard departments such as the Ministry of Defence may have their consciences pricked and follow our example, as they probably follow that of another place and that great temple of value for money, Marks & Spencer?
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, the last thing that I contemplated--I did not contemplate it at all--was that in this Question I would be asked about the Ministry of Defence. I can see possible advantages in the Ministry using wild boar on some occasions. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for what he has said. I shall consider whether this can be more widely publicised, because it would be an advantage to do so. I benefit from British pork because almost every day when your Lordships' House sits I enjoy a lunch of beautifully mashed potatoes and two hot sausages in the Home Room. They are delicious and I commend them to the House.
Clause 43 concerns the Secretary of State's power to prorogue the Northern Ireland Assembly. The power in the Bill as it stands is unfettered and does not need to be justified, although a draft Order in Council must be approved under the affirmative resolution procedure. Clause 43 reflects provisions in earlier Northern Ireland legislation which were briefly used on occasions--for example, in the summer of 1973.
In discussions with the Northern Ireland parties, there was considerable opposition to the kind of emergency powers represented by this clause. We have already debated the powers to call emergency dissolutions and fresh elections. As a result, the Secretary of State's powers in this field have instead been given to the Assembly.
We see the weight in the criticism of such emergency powers: that they are planning for failure and as a result might paradoxically make failure more likely. The Government are not in the business of planning for failure in Northern Ireland. We believe that the progress we have seen over the past year fully justifies this confidence. The Northern Ireland Bill reflects the Belfast agreement: the greatest success in building bridges across the community in the entire history of Northern Ireland. The agreement already provides for a review of its provisions after four years. If circumstances change dramatically, the power of Westminster to make provisions for Northern Ireland remains unaffected by the Bill. But we believe that the Bill provides the firmest foundation for political development over the years ahead and that the kind of powers included in this clause are therefore unnecessary. I beg to move.
Lord Cope of Berkeley: This is one of a number of clauses in the Bill which the Minister proposes to oppose, having put them before the Committee. However, I realise that that results from the consultations which took place over the summer, in particular with the Northern Ireland parties. Therefore my criticism of the noble Lord opposing his own clauses is muted a great deal.
The Minister describes this power as planning for failure. I do not envisage it in that way. I understand the clause to provide for contingencies, which I believe is a different issue. I should not wish to plan on the basis that the Assembly and all that goes
However, at this stage I do not wish to go against the results of the consultation which the Minister and his colleagues in the Northern Ireland Office have had with the Northern Ireland parties. I am prepared to concur with the proposal made by the Minister.
Lord Holme of Cheltenham: We, too, have no essential problem with what the Government seek to do. Perhaps I may be clear. The Assembly will be able to prorogue itself, the power having been removed from Her Majesty to do so. Will the Assembly be able to prorogue itself in the event to which the noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred--that all did not go well? If so, for how long? How would that relate to the provision--from these Benches we very much welcome it--that the Assembly will have a fixed term? It is an example that we might well follow in the Westminster Parliament. I should be grateful for an answer on those points.
Lord Molyneaux of Killead: I am reluctant to prolong this part of the debate. However, I had the impression that the clause as it stood did even more damage to what I call the sacred scrolls of the Good Friday agreement. Perhaps it was for that reason that wiser counsels prevailed. I was the recipient on many occasions of such exhortations, even when I was making tremendously significant suggestions that an amendment providing that the "Secretary of State shall" instead of "the Secretary of State may" sent the wrong signals and demoralised all who had subscribed in the referendum to the agreement.